Liveblogging McCain vs. Obama — Round Two

It’s a townhall format. This is supposed to favour McCain.

Let’s see if McCain managers to work in the words Bill Ayers. Sarah Palin wants him to. Meanwhile, Obama has been benefiting from the financial meltdown. The question is whether he has anything useful to say about it.


Obama gets the first question on responding to the financial crisis.

Obama says he wants to make sure CEOs don’t get golden parachutes. He wants to infrastructure projects to give people jobs. He wants to fix healthcare.

McCain says Americans are angry, upset and fearful, and he has a plan to fix the problem. He says it has to do with energy independence [*energy independence? kind of an odd way to begin the answer.] and keeping taxes low, and stop the spending spree in Washington. He’s talking about a package of reforms. We have to do something about home values. I would have the Secretary of the Treasury buy up mortgages. Is it expensive? Yes. But until we stabilize home values, we won’t turn around the economy

Tom Brokaw asks: Who would you choose for Treasury Secretary?

McCain lists Obama supporter Warren Buffet, or Meg Whitman of Ebay. Obama says Buffet would be a good choice, but says there are others. He doesn’t list names, but says the focus should be on the middle class. No Wall Streeters on the list.


Question 2:

What in the bailout package that will help regular people?

McCain is talking about suspending his campaign to go to Washington and help with the bailout. [It’s unclear what he actually helped.] They made it to question 2 without attacking each other. Now McCain is attacking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and blaming “Senator Obama and his cronies” for resisting change to the institutions while accepting their money. Says Obama was the second highest recipient of their contributions in history. He’s talking again about buying up bad mortgages. “Some of us stood up against it.”

Obama is explaining that credit markets are frozen. His rebuttal to McCain is to blame deregulation of financial markets and says McCain is a deregulator. Says he never promoted Fannie Mae. “But you’re not interested in politicians pointing fingers.” So true. Obama says that the next president has to think about homebuyers and homeowners, not banks.

Aside from their attacks on each other, it’s hard to see much difference here on what they want to do going forward.


Question 3: How can we trust either of you with our money, both parties got us into this crisis?

Obama says he understands the frustration and cynicism and says there is a lot of blame to go around. But points out that when Bush came into office there were surpluses, and now there is a half trillion dollar deficit. Concedes that “no one is completely innocent here” but says McCain voted for 4 of 5 Bush budgets. And it’s back to alternative energy and college affordability, and spending cuts. Obama says he is proposing a net spending cut. “The key is whether we have priorities that are working for you.”

McCain agrees that Washington is broken and says he is a consistent reformer with a record of bipartisanship. He says Obama has never taken on his party on any issue.


Question 4: Brokaw tries to get them to rank by priority health care reform, entitlement reform, and energy independence. McCain says he will do all three at once. Wants to build nuclear power plants. Obama says he will prioritize.

Obama says McCain’s tax cuts would cost $300 billion. We have to prioritize both tax and spend policies. McCain is now giving examples of when he took on corrupt spending projects.


Obama brings up 9/11 and the bipartisan unity. Ah, those were the days. He is back to attacking Bush, not McCain. Says Bush called on people to “go out and shop,” and says that was not good leadership. Says he supports offshore drilling, as well as individual conservation — and creating incentives to buy fuel efficient cars made in America, weatherizing homes and businesses, etc.


Both candidates are speaking soberly and somewhat depressingly about the coming economic sacrifices. So far, Obama seems to be making the clearest contrast with McCain on giving tax cuts on the wealthy. It’s tough to ask a teacher earnign $35K to tighten her belt for people who are living high on the hog. Also says he disagree with an across-the-board spending cut. Says he wants to use a scalpel, where McCain would use a hatchet. The undecided voters in Ohio are loving it.

McCain responds by saying Obama will raise taxes on half of small businesses and this will cost jobs. McCain says nailing Obama’s tax policies is like nailing Jello to the wall.

“I am not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. I am in favour of leaving the tax rates alone.” Now he’s touting his plans for increasing tax excemptions and tax credits for health care.


Would either one of them reform Social Security and Medicare within 2 years?

Obama is back to touting his tax cut for people making less than $250K, and a tax credit for small business owners to buy health insurance. McCain says Obama’s record is to vote for tax increase. Neither one really touches the issue of how to reform Social Security.


What will they do about climate change? McCain is touting nuclear power again. More generalities about alternative energies. The audience looks bored. There is nothing new here so far in this debate. A lot of generalities. Obama says this is a national security issue and will take government investments — in solar, geothermal, and favours nuclear power as one component. Now accuses McCain of voting against alternative fuels. Now Obama is saying “we can’t drill our way out of the problem.”

Tom Brokaw wants to know if they should fund one Manhattan Project to develop alternative project, or a lot of projects. McCain says he voted against Bush-Cheney energy bill because it was “loaded down with goodies.” “Goes who voted against it? That one,” he says, pointing to Obama.


Neither one is drawing blood here. On balance, that helps Obama since he’s been leading in the polls since the economic crisis started.


Should health care be treated as a commodity? Obama doesn’t really answer but says there is a moral imperative to do something to insure more people and shifts to explaining his health care plan. McCain is talking about putting medical records on line. McCain says the fundamental difference between them is that if you are a business who doesn’t insure employees, Obama will fine you, or if you are a parent and don’t cover your children, he will fine you. No doubt Obama will want to rebut this. Afterall, that was Obama’s critique against Hillary Clinton’s plan. (McCain takes a swipe at hair transplants. Is that a lame joke about Biden?) Says health care is a “responsibility” but he’s “nervous” about “government mandates.”

Obama. I think it should be a right for every American. Says small businesses won’t have a mandate, but 50% tax credit. He says it’s true that children will be required to be covered. Says allowing state by state competition will allow insurance companies to set up shop in a state with lowest requirements for coverage. This is actually a difference between them. McCain adds: did we hear the size of the fine?


Now for a rehash of the national security debate. McCain touting his military effort and Obama criticizing his judgment on going into Iraq and the amount of money that it has cost. The uncommitted Ohio voters on CNN are maxing out their approval on that point. They seem to have been giving Obama higher marks all night long.

Obama finds it necessary to talk about being in the greatest nation on earth and America being “a force for good.” This has become an incredibly sensitive issue for him in this campaign.


Brokaw asks for their “doctrines” on going in to humanitarian crises where there is no direct national interst at stake. Obama says it’s something we’d have to consider but, “There is a lot of cruelty around the world. We are not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. That’s why we have to be able to work with our allies.”

McCain responds by attacking Obama for wanting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. McCain says “we must do whatever we can do prevent genocide” but that has to be tempered by our ability to help the situation. This requires a “cool hand,” he says. He’s mentioning marines in Lebanon yet again.

I don’t see a clear doctrine or a clear difference in their answers.


Obama pronounces Pakistan PAHkistan which is rare in DC. “We will kill Bin Laden and crush Al Qaeda” — that line gets highest marks from both men and women in CNN’s focus group. McCain is now attacking Obama on talking openly being willing to attack within Pakistan’s borders. McCain wants to work together with Pakistanis and coordinate with them.

Obama is on his most aggressive now — noting that McCain had sung about “bomb, bomb Iran” and “called for the annihilation of North Korea.” McCain says not true. The Iran dig clearly got to McCain. He explains, “I was joking with an old veteran friend.”


Brokaw: how do you reorganize Afghanistan strategy?

Obama: Have Iraqi government take more responsibility, and move more US troops to Afghanistan. McCain: General Petreaus will set the strategy and tactics. We have to double size of Afghan army, streamline NATO structure. Oh yeah, and Obama still won’t admit he was wrong about the surge.


McCain is telling Americans to watch Ukraine which is the sights of Putin. We have to show moral support for Georgia. Obama says for the “most part” he agrees with McCain on steps to take. Wants to provide moral support to former Soviet satellites — and have to provide financial assistance.


It’s hard to believe they’ve been at it for almost an hour and half.


Is Russia an evil empire? Obama, they have engaged in evil behaviour and have nationalistic impulses. McCain says “maybe.” Says I think we can deal with them. He’s smart not to play the role of saber-rattler here.


Would they be willing to commit troops in support of Israel or would they wait for UN Security Council.

McCain: We obviously would not wait. China and Russia would be obstacles. Uses it as an opening to go after Obama yet again for saying he’d sit down with Ahmadinejad. No debate is complete without line pledging to not allow a second Holocaust to take place.

Obama: Can’t allow a nuclear Iran. Can’t provide veto power to UN over acting in our interests. Must try diplomacy, economic sanctions, etc etc. Still supports direct talks to send a direct message. Admits “it may not work.” Notes that US didn’t talk to them but both Iran’s and NK’s nuclear capabilities went up.


A question Brokaw calls “Zen-like”: What don’t you know and how will you learn it?

Obama: Ask Michelle. Just kidding. Somehow he’s turned this into a story about coming from modest means and mom and food stamps and Grandma scrimpin’ so he could go to best schools. It’s his closing pitch about “fundamental change.”

McCain: What I don’t know is what all of us don’t know, and that’s what is going to happen here at home and abroad. Duh. He gets to his closing pitch about serving his country, fighting to keep his hope going in tough times, etc.


The best moment of the night: the two candidates have to prance out of the way because Tom Brokaw can’t say “Good Night” without seeing the teleprompter.


Overall: McCain seemed to be trying to keep a lid on his emotions and to not come across as sarcastic as in the last debate. It made him a bit flat. But it was all undone when he referred to Obama as “that one.” There is palpable contempt which seems to undermine his bipartisan appeal.

Certainly the questions did not hit any new ground or elicit anything we didn’t know. Neither candidate said much that was memorable on the economy. They were able to get into the details of health care policy a little more, which worked to Obama’s advantage. It was hard to square McCain’s plan to buy up mortgages with his call for across-the-board spending cuts.

Over on Fox News, the commentators are upset that there were now questions about guns, abortion, or personal values. This must mean they think McCain didn’t do well. Frank Luntz’s focus group of swing voters in Arlington, VA concludes that Obama won, especially because of his answers on health care. Luntz asks how many thought McCain did better on the economy. Six people out of more than 20 raise their hands — and Luntz concludes that “about half” think McCain did better. Brit Hume snickers.


Notably not mentioned tonight: Bill Ayers and “Maverick.”

Bottom line: Given the state of the polls in swing states, McCain needs a game-changer. This debate didn’t do it. We’ll see if Palin ratchets up the Ayers angle even more tomorrow. That’s enough campaign for tonight.

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